10 Grunge Bands That Should Have Been Bigger


Photo of Detroit rock band Sponge.

Sponge is on Audio Ink Radio’s list of 10 grunge bands that should have been bigger- Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tracy Ketcher

Audio Ink Radio names 10 grunge bands that should have been bigger

Before Nirvana hit it big with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” there were a handful of bands hitting the pavement, getting this new sound known as “grunge” to the underground. Most of these bands hailed from Seattle, Washington. Many of them had another thing in common: They were the opposite of hair metal. Instead of leather, they wore flannel. In lieu of guitar solos, they opted for messy, lo-fi guitars. Instead of heartthrob vocalists, they had artistic, tortured singers who used music as a form of therapy.

Although most of the music world was asleep during the early days of grunge, they quickly woke up with the 1991 sophomore album from Nirvana known as “Nevermind.” From there, bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains quickly garnered strength.

But, what about those early grunge bands that started it all? We’re talking about the bands that didn’t make it to the level of a Nirvana or Pearl Jam, but could have been much bigger. Read on for Audio Ink Radio’s list of 10 obscure grunge bands that could have been bigger. Reach out to us with your picks on social media here.

10. Love Battery

Love Battery certainly weren’t grunge in the pure sense, but they came from the Seattle scene and were signed to Sub Pop, so they fit the bill. The band’s music stood apart, with its atmospheric textures, fuzzy guitars and dash of psychedelia. Add to that Love Battery’s pop melodies, and you have a 1990s grunge band that could have been bigger.

9. Seaweed

Seaweed marks another Sub Pop artist on this list. The band signed to the label following the release of their 1990 self-title EP and caught a wider audience with their Sub Pop debut, 1992’s “Weak.” Seaweed is for fans of darker, more sludgy grunge bands such as Soundgarden or Alice in Chains. They tampered their grunge sound with hints of post-hardcore and even a little metal. Unlike many of their peers, Seaweed also stayed active throughout the decade, ending on a high note with 1999’s “Actions and Inactions.”

8. Malfunkshun

Pearl Jam had not one but two bands that eventually evolved into what is today’s Pearl Jam. Mother Love Bone came right before Pearl Jam, fronted by the charismatic and dramatic Andy Wood. Before Mother Love Bone, there was Malfunkshun, another Wood-fronted outfit. With Malfunkshun, Wood and company created music that was very, very early grunge, as we’re talking mid-80s, and also mixed in ’80s rock influences such as Freddie Mercury and even Prince. Like Mother Love Bone, they could have been big, if Wood hadn’t sadly overdosed as a young man.

7. Sponge

Not all grunge came from Seattle. Sponge hailed from Detroit and offered a Motor City brand of grunge, with a harder rock sound than their contemporaries. With heavy choruses but lots of melody, songs such as “Plowed” and “Molly” really took off. The band’s debut album, “Rotting Pinata,” is a regular on lists of the best albums from the 1990s.

6. Mudhoney

Sure, Mudhoney were big. But, they never reached the superstar status of bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. The band was an early influencer in the grunge scene. Their 1988 debut EP, “Superfuzz Bigmuff,” came out with a bang, buoyed by the single “Touch Me I’m Sick.” Mudhoney came close to becoming a household grunge name, but didn’t quite get there. Still, that doesn’t take away from their body of exceptional music and what they did to help pioneer the genre.

5. Mother Love Bone

Like Malfunkshun, Mother Love Bone was spearheaded by the bundle-of-energy known as Andy Wood. Many think Wood could have been one of the biggest rock stars of the 1990s, if he hadn’t fallen to the demons of heroin. With Mother Love Bone, Wood took what he did in Malfunkshun and made it a bit more commercial and contemporary to the 1990s. We’ll never know what this band could have done, but we do know that its next incarnation, Pearl Jam, became one of the biggest rock bands of all time.

4. Screaming Trees

As with Mudhoney, Screaming Trees were certainly big. If you ask even a casual grunge fan about the band, they’ll likely say they’ve heard “Nearly Lost You” a bunch. But, they never made it to platinum-level success. That doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve it. Frontman Mark Lanegan had a great stage presence and knack for creating punk-friendly psychedelia-tempered grunge. For whatever reason, they just never blew up, but Screaming Trees still have a discography that’s a pleasure to spin.

3. L7

L7 weren’t from Seattle, they were from Los Angeles, but they had that grunge character in their sound. Formed in 1985 by Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner, L7 are widely considered one of grunge rock’s finest moment when it came to women in the genre. Sure, Courtney Love and Hole were huge, but they had nothing on L7’s punk energy and grungy riffs.

2. Tad

Tad could have been Nirvana. Their music had the same commercial appeal as Nirvana, with catchy hooks and a grunge sound that appealed to a wide range of music fans. Lead vocalist Tad Doyle was also super charismatic and funny, a winning combination for any burgeoning band. However, Tad stayed fairly underground, partly just due to some hard luck the guys came up on with a lawsuit for the artwork on their “8-Way Santa” album and some label deals that fell through the cracks because of shifting personnel. But, listening to the songs on 1991’s “8-Way Santa” and the follow-up, 1993’s “Inhaler,” it’s obvious they could have been much bigger. Listen to our interview with Tad’s Thomas Andrew Doyle here.

1. Green River

If you’re a deep grunge fan, then you already know about Green River. But, many people who consider themselves fans of the genre still haven’t heard of these legends. That’s pretty crazy, especially considering the term grunge supposedly came from Bruce Pavitt’s description of Green River’s “Dry as a Bone” EP in a Sub Pop catalogue as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” Green River was kind of a supergroup, to boot, as it brought together future Mother Love Bone players Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and Bruce Fairweather; future Pearl Jam players Ament and Gossard; and future Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm.

Read Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 12 best grunge songs of all time here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Grunge, Music